Sunday, June 10, 2007

Travel: One Day of the Best Italian Food

This is the final report from my friend David’s trip to Italy. Listening to all his descriptions about the food there, I feel like going to North Beach in San Francisco this weekend and sitting outside with a cup of cappuccino. Problem is, North Beach isn’t exactly Rome (or Roma as the locals call it) and I don’t drink cappuccino. Oh well, again, I have to just live vicariously through David’s culinary adventure. Thanks for the posts David and giving us a weekend escape to Italy!

Don’t get me wrong. I loved, loved, LOVED the food my wife and I tried during our two-week vacation in Italy. But since we’ve returned I’ve imagined the perfect Italian meals made up of the best food from our entire trip.

Hands down, our best breakfast was at Ayres, a local bar/café a few blocks from our Rome accommodations near Villa Borghese. Breakfast in Italy is usually just cappuccino and a sweet breakfast roll. My wife, Ann (above), claims the cappuccino here was better than almost anywhere in the states (I loved the espresso). Our breakfast roll of choice was a roll topped with chocolate icing and filled with a chocolate pudding (almost like the kind in those Hostess pies you’d eat as a kid). What I wouldn’t do for one right now!

Lunch is generally the biggest meal of the day in Italy. It’s usually eaten after 1:30 or 2 p.m. The best lunch item I tried was also at the aforementioned Ayres Café – a cold salad of risotto rice, smoked salmon, olive oil and fresh mint. In fact, this may have been the single best thing I ate in Italy. The salad was perfect on a hot day with lots of flavor from the salmon and the fresh mint. I also liked the café’s fried calamari, which was tender but not greasy.
My ideal lunch would also include the “stracchino rucola e pachino” pizza at Rome’s La Limonai, a great lunch spot in a restored lemon warehouse on an estate once owned by Mussolini. The pizza had a thin, crunchy crust topped with fresh arugula, tomatoes and stracchino—a creamy, mild cow’s milk cheese. Stracchino is usually eaten as a dessert cheese, but was an inspired choice for the pizza.

Afternoon snack
Hey, I had to throw in another meal somewhere. Pizza to-go counters are everywhere in Rome. My favorite was the pizza topped with tuna fish and tomato sauce at delizie di pizza in Rome. You order at the counter and the pizza is cut into square strips and weighed. It’s cheap and delicious. [[My favorite pizza by the slice in Rome is the artichoke hearts. They were piled on and dee-lish!—ben]]

Dinner in Italy can be a smaller meal than lunch, but there are no rules. It’s usually eaten after 9 p.m. I’ve separated my favorite dishes into the traditional categories you’d find on an Italian menu:

Antipasti (appetizers)
My two favorites were the caprese salad and the baked ricotta. We ate the caprese salad at Pulalli Wine Bar on the island of Capri. Many Americans are familiar with caprese salad (Roma tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil, olive oil and a sprinkling of oregano), but did you know that it originated on Capri? The salad here was so good because the ingredients tasted as if they had just been picked from a garden. The tomatoes were sweet and had a crunch and weren’t soft and mealy.

We had the baked ricotta at a restaurant called La Fossa del Grano in the small southern Italian town of San Severo. The baked ricotta, made entirely of ricotta cheese, had the consistency of an airy, rich soufflé.

Primo (usually pastas)
I have to admit that of all the food we tried in Italy, the pastas weren’t my favorites. Still, there was one that easily was tops: the linguini in clam sauce at Il Giardino Romano in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto. The pasta, of course, was al dente (cooked “to the bite”) and the sauce was flavored with clams, white wine and olive oil. It’s a simple and hearty dish.

Secondi (entrees)
We tended to eat mostly antipasti and pastas rather than meats on our trip. Still, the veal steak and veal meatballs served at the home of my brother-in-law’s parents in San Severo were truly memorable. The veal steak was seasoned just right, the meatballs were flavorful but not greasy and the sides of broccoli rabe and fresh mozzarella capped the perfect secondi.

Dolce (dessert)
We didn’t eat a lot of desserts after dinner, mostly because we had already filled up on gelato in the afternoon. [[MMM, love gelato! Doesn't everyone?—ben]] For the record, my favorite was the pistachio gelato at Gelateria dei Gracchi in Rome (amazingly, I forgot to take pictures!). In lieu of choosing a favorite dolce, we loved the after-dinner liqueurs at La Fossa del Grano. The waiter brought us two bottles, one a liqueur made of lemons (limoncello) and the other made of bay leaf. The liqueurs have a somewhat thick syrupy consistency and are meant for sipping. Just be careful how much you drink or you’ll be stumbling home.

— David

P.S. Thanks Ben for letting me share my Italian food experiences!

Photos courtesy of David Kligman. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Mrs. L aka Rene said...

Well, David certainly made me want to go get some Italian food! (preferably in Italy..)